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Whew! You Have Graduated. Now What?

May 25th, 2010 by

Congratulations to all of you recent college graduates who earned admission into graduate school, as well as those who were proactive enough to search for jobs early (and lucky enough to get one). But for those of you who thought that job was going to miraculously land in your lap and are just beginning your search, let’s talk. You are not alone!

Many students do not start the job search until after graduation. As a career services professional, I do not understand that, but I have come to realize that students have different priorities and motivations. So, what if you are now desperately searching? What do you do? Well, outside of persistence, with a little patience, flexibility and hard work, you will eventually find that job, too.

You might be one of those people who ignored notices regarding career fairs, campus interviews and events hosted by your career center. Now that you have time, pay them a visit. As an alumnus or alumna, you will still be welcomed by the staff in your career center. Get their advice and access to their job contacts.

I was just reading an article in Bloomberg Businessweek about cities that are considered “safer” during a recession. You might want to consider jobs in those areas — especially while you are young, flexible and ready for the world. Those cities are the District of Columbia; Arlington, Virginia; Durham, North Carolina; Madison, Wisconsin; Boston, Massachusetts; Baltimore, Maryland; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; New Orleans, Louisiana; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Anchorage, Alaska; Lexington, Kentucky; Corpus Christi, Texas; Seattle, Washington; Chesapeake, Virginia; Lincoln Nebraska and Buffalo, New York.

Actually apply for jobs, network and let all of your circle of friends, professors and family know you are looking. Don’t forget to articulate your goals. Also, I realize that applying through organizations’ Websites is frustrating, so I would make it a goal to apply to at least five a week. The more activity you have, the more likely you are to get in front of people for interviews. The more interviews you have, the more likely you are to get a J.O.B.!

Finding a Mentor Could Begin in College and Last for a Lifetime

February 5th, 2010 by

We are all products of our past experiences, and our relationships with others can greatly influence us. I appreciate all of those who have given me good career advice over the years - solicited or not - and helped me develop as a professional. Therefore, while working with college students, I highly recommend that they seek a mentor. Although any genuine relationship requires each party to help the other, a mentor is a good contact to have for several reasons. The mentor can help the student identify a suitable career goal; create and implement a transition plan from college to work; set realistic, attainable career goals; network effectively and efficiently; overcome obstacles; and step outside of the box to grow and develop. Generally, the relationship can be an invaluable resource. Here are my suggestions for locating and developing a mentoring relationship.

1.) Consider Your Career Interests. Seek someone who has had career success in an area of your choice. As career success is a relative term, think about where you would like to be in a career and locate a person either there or on the way.

2.) Find Someone With Whom You Can Relate. Of course, mentors do not have to be of the same gender, age or race as you, but there is nothing wrong with it if they are. Often, people connect with others who have similar interests, either religious, extracurricular, college major, from the same hometown or state, etc.

3.) Contact Your College Alumni Office. If you are a college student or graduate, alumni are a great group of people to contact. First, you have an immediate connection with them because of your college. Alumni are always interested in showing off their success to younger students or counterparts, particularly if they are successful. But that is OK. It is a win-win for you and the alumni because you get access to information and resources by making the connection. Oftentimes, if you are looking to relocate to another state, you may find alumni in that area willing to help you find work.

4.) Nurture the Relationship. Periodically spend time with the mentor — have coffee, attend professional events, email them, send birthday cards, have telephone conversations, etc. Seek advice on your resume and get feedback on your professional development, short/long term goals, and strategies. Also, look for ways to assist them and build a genuine relationship. It is not always about asking for help.

5.) Maintain Through Your Professional Career. At the start of your career search, mentors can help you gain entry into an organization for that first job or internship. As you develop more experience or plateau, the mentor might offer ways to advance in your career. Competition is greater as you seek to move up the ladder, but mentors can help you strategize, coach you or connect you with the right people.

Good luck as you develop, grow and advance professionally. And please remember that, to be successful, you must incorporate a variety of tools to assist with your career development.

Maximizing Your Liberal Arts Degree

November 4th, 2009 by

When I graduated from college with my Bachelor of Science in Psychology, I was ready to set the world on fire and for someone to hand me that six-figure paycheck. However, reality set in very quickly. I accepted a position with an insurance company and soon became bored with the work. I wished then that I had followed the advice of my undergraduate advisor and continued on to graduate school. Having said that, I still to this day do not regret majoring in psychology.

For those students majoring in subjects like political science, history, English, philosophy and psychology, finding a job can seem like a daunting task. The truth is liberal arts majors have a ton of marketable skills valued by almost any employer, including the ability to think critically, adapt to new and changing environments, have a broad understanding of the world and relationships, analyze data and organize ideas, articulate ideas effectively, maintain a strong work ethic, multitask, take initiative and lead, and write effectively.

To get the most out of such a degree, one must prepare, package and market that undergraduate experience. Here are some suggestions.

Do your homework. First, research the types of careers that are out there, whether they’re with a non-profit or in education, the arts, or at a corporation.  Make a big list of various job titles that interest you. Some jobs well suited for liberal arts majors are teachers, journalists, researchers, lawyers, business analysts, management consultants, risk managers, claims representatives, underwriters, coaches, counselors and ministers. A few good Web sites for non-profit and international jobs are idealist.org, indeed.com and genxpat.org.

Determine if graduate school is necessary. Some students are much better off attending graduate school to increase their career options. Find out if you have one of those majors. Also, decide if you are prepared for the time commitment and money needed for graduate school. If you answer is “yes,” begin the application process.

Modify your resume. Create a profile section on your resume to articulate your career goals  and strengths. Also, make a section to show the skills you developed as a liberal arts major. Sell those confidently and right up front. For instance: “Developed critical/analytical thinking and strong communication skills, and have a good understanding of global affairs.”

Be able to clearly articulate your passion. Reflect on why you chose to major in a liberal art in the first place. Do not make apologies for that, but be able to clearly articulate your passion for the subject, what you bring to the table and what it is you would like to do for a career. Passion sells.

Liberal arts majors are often misunderstood, but with the right level of motivation, passion and focus, you can be very successful with a liberal arts degree. Remember, some of the most successful people in their careers were liberal arts majors.

College Seniors, On Your Mark

August 24th, 2009 by

It is funny how this works. Usually, the first senior who walks into my office at the beginning of the school year is the one who ends up with the first job offer.

For instance, last year, a student sat down with me and presented a flawless description of his internship experience. He was able to clearly articulate the skills he developed while interning and how this experience led him to his career choices. He was also able to name the specific companies for which he wanted to work. Needless to say, I was impressed. Not only was I impressed with his appreciation of the internship experience, but I was more impressed with his focus and proactivity. He ended up with two very good job offers and accepted an entry-level position with a major bank in Charlotte, his dream company.

Senior year can be very busy with meetings, deadlines, graduation planning, academic advising, etc. However, seniors should get a career plan for post-graduation and work that plan. Far too often, students have great ideas and lofty plans for work or graduate school, but somehow, time slips by, graduation happens and nothing has been done to find a job, and deadlines have passed to apply for graduate school.

Here are some suggestions for seniors to help stay focused.

  1. Get a calendar. Hopefully, by now you maintain a calendar to keep up with classes and extracurricular activities. If not, this is the time use a calendar to mark important networking events such as career fairs, campus interviews, standardized test dates for graduate school, application deadlines for jobs and/or graduate school.
  2. Visit your career center. Do not take the career center at your school for granted. No one can guarantee you a job after graduation, but the career centers usually host events like career fairs and have access to many employers. Use the career center to update your resume and polish up those interview skills.
  3. Apply for jobs in different states. In this job market, seniors should think “flexibility.” Your first job may not be in your dream city, but be willing to go where jobs are, get experience, and think about relocating to your dream location later. For instance, the Federal Government will be hiring many people over the next several years. Look at Washington, D.C., as a possible job location.
  4. Purchase a dark suit. It is amazing to me how many students resist the need to purchase a suit. The flip flops and shorts are great for the college campus, but imagine life beyond college. A dark suit is standard interview attire, regardless of  your major and career choice.
  5. Bookmark your potential employers. Visit the Web sites of your ideal employers and look for entry level jobs. Often, those positions will be on Web sites under “College Recruiting” for larger organizations. Begin posting for jobs as early as possible. Do not wait until April to begin your search. Look at sites like Collegegrad.com, Idealist.org and Careerbuilder.com.
  6. Take standardized tests and apply for grad school. If you have not taken the appropriate standardized test for graduate school by your junior year, do so in October or November. Your applications should be completed and submitted before winter break in December.

"Networking" is Not a Dirty Word

August 12th, 2009 by

It just depends on your approach. If you view networking as attending a reception and collecting someone’s business card to immediately call to ask for a job, then you probably despise networking. You despise it because you would not take too well to someone calling you for a job so soon unless you asked that person to contact you.

I was at a recent event, when the speaker, George Fraser (author of Click: Ten Truths for Building Extraordinary Relationships), stated how networking should be done. I had just never thought of it that way, but I agree. He said, “Networking is about developing genuine, authentic relationships.” Instead of seeking out someone for a quick fix, Fraser says we should always be connecting with people and building relationships before asking. Extroverts do this all the time but should be more conscious of the process. For instance, you attend an event, you meet someone interesting, follow up with a brief email or personal note, meet for coffee, and over a period of time, stay in contact and/or attend events together that might be of mutual interests.

One more important piece of advice I have is to make sure you look for ways you can help those in your network. Offer suggestions, referrals if appropriate. Your regular contacts do not necessarily have to be long conversations or meetings. They could be as simple as a call to just say hello. If you are looking for a job, however, it is good to inform those in your network with whom you have good, strong relationships, including your friends, family and long-time professional associates.

One good way to meet someone, particularly in an area or organization you would like to work, is to call that person and ask for an informational interview. Introduce yourself and let the person know you are interested in finding out how he or she got into his or her career and maybe get some advice on your resume. People always like to talk about themselves and give advice. These interviews are good at the place of employment or over coffee. Coffee meetings are always good because they are not expensive.

Another way to network is to volunteer, particularly if you are out of work and cannot find a job. Some of the most connected, influential people volunteer. Identify an organization with a mission in which you believe. Try to assist in areas that either help develop your professional skills or keep them current. Volunteer work is good filler on a resume to prevent time lapses between jobs.

A Perfect Interview Gets You The Job!

July 21st, 2009 by

Just as a good resume can get you the interview, it is a perfect interview that gets you the job! Regardless of which college graduated you, or what experience or skills you possess, if you cannot sell yourself during the interview, more than likely a company will not consider you for employment. Here is some advice I have given individuals over the years.

1.) Your first goal is to build chemistry. People hire individuals to whom they can relate or who they see as a fit for the organization’s culture and teams. Therefore, as soon as you enter the room, use your small talk skills. Have a genuine conversation regarding the day, the interview, sports or something related to the interviewer’s interests. Pictures on the interviewer’s desk or wall will provide you some clues to their interests. Also, don’t be afraid to smile and show some personality.

2.) Make sure you establish a conversational tone. The good thing about small talk prior to the official interview is that it allows you to warm up and relax. Small talk also creates a conversation rhythm to your voice. If you leave the interview and feel like you did not have a professional conversation and banter, then the interview was probably not a good one.

3) Prepare an executive summary before the interview. The executive summary is a document you put together that lists your qualifications, background and experience as compared to the qualifications, background and experience from the job description. The document is only a reference guide for you (along with the resume) that helps you internalize the requirements and sell yourself to the job description.

4) Prepare for a behavioral-based interview. Most organizations are interested in how you have solved problems in the past. Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior. Therefore, a recruiter may ask you questions like, “Tell me about a time when you had to motivate a resistant team to make procedural or process changes?” or “Give me an example of a time when you had to make a major presentation to large group. How did you prepare?” One technique to answer behavioral-based questions is by using the Situation, Tasks, Actions, Results (STAR) technique. Give a specific situation in which you were involved, describe your challenge and the actions you took to resolve the problem, and talk about the results. With this technique, you tell a compelling story and make a great sell.

5) Look good and exude confidence. Confidence is always attractive, and it makes a great selling point as well. Do your research on the company, know the position, focus on your strengths and dress to the max for a professional interview. Dark suits, light shirts and dark polished shoes always make you feel like you are on top of the world.

Happy interviewing!

A Good Resume Gets the Interview

July 14th, 2009 by

When an individual comes to me seeking a job, and after I determine his or her career goals, the next thing I want to do is review his or her resume. The resume is the most important marketing tool one could have in the job search for an obvious reason: it may be the only information the employer has on you. Therefore, it could stand between you and an interview.

When adjusting your resume for that perfect job, put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter. With the job market being so competitive, employers can have twice the normal number of resumes to review for each opening and less time to review them. So what can you do to make your resume an attention grabber? And when you complete your resume, answer the question, “Would I hire me?”

1.) Tailor your resume to a specific or hypothetical job description. Oftentimes, and particularly at larger organizations, your resume is pre-screened by human resources professionals, and the only method they have to determine whether your qualifications are a fit is comparing your resume to the job description. Appropriately use key words from the job description in your bullets under work experience. Have your jobs speak to your accomplishments and quantify your results when possible. For instance, “Effectively managed a budget of more than $650,000  for three departments, including salaries and operating expenses.”

2.) Create a profile section on your resume. This section could include a summary statement of your relevant experience, background and skills. It could also communicate your career goals. I have recommended that people also include a section to highlight specific strengths or areas of expertise in a list or bullet format. Here you can use key words from your chosen job description that might include things like, “Six Sigma certified, in-depth knowledge of employment law, change manager, etc.”  The profile area could take up to 25 percent of your first page. Be careful, though — if you add a profile area, make sure you back up your claims with bullets to showcase your work.

3.) Keep the resume to one page if possible, and make very good use of the white space. One myth about resumes is that employers want a lot of white space on resumes. Not true. Employers want to see that you are accomplished and have relevant work experience. Fill the resume with good quality information. If you have five or more years of professional experience, a two-page resume is acceptable.

4.) Give your resume a professional aesthetic. Reference resume booklets for a professional style and layout appealing to you and one that might get the attention of others. More importantly, have someone proof it for content, style and grammatical errors. The more time you put into the resume up front, the better the response rate from employers!

Stop, Look and Listen to Find Your Passion

June 22nd, 2009 by

While in high school, I had always been the one to galvanize my friends, resolve conflicts and motivate them to achieve. When I was in the 10th grade, I asked my mother for a subscription to Psychology Today magazine because I wanted to attend college and major in Psychology. However, before that, I spent some time in Kenya as an exchange student.

Over 30 years later, I still love people and helping them achieve their goals and finding their passions. I work as director of the career center at Queens University of Charlotte and hope to share some lessons I have learned and people I have experienced over the past 18 years as a career counselor through this weekly blog.

Today, I want to talk about discovering your passion.

After graduating from college and before becoming a career counselor, I worked as a claims representative for an insurance company. Nothing against careers in insurance, but the routine, paperwork and structure was a bit much for me. The job was not suited for my personality at all.  Four years later, I was fortunate enough to locate a job as a career counselor and took a cut in pay. But one year later, I was director of a career center earning $10,000 more than my job as a claims representative and much happier. I am thankful for that less-than-satisfactory job in insurance and use that experience to motivate others in my work to find suitable careers.

When someone comes into my office because they are dissatisfied with their career, the first thing I tell them is to stop, look and listen. For one, stop and take inventory of things they enjoy doing, and let that be the guide to determine a career path. Dig deep. I can think of nothing worse than working 40 hours per week at something you loathe. There are several tools out there that can help you uncover your interests, skills and values such as the Myers Briggs Type Inventory, The Motivational Appraisal for Personal Potential and The Workplace Big 5, The Campbell, etc. These inventories will also suggest jobs that you might find interesting based on your personality type.

Look around you and see who is successful, what jobs are hot and, last but not least, see if you have the interest, experience and skills to do the work. Some of the best entrepreneurial ideas come during tough economic times. A friend of mine recently started a hamburger restaurant with very reasonable prices and a fun atmosphere and is doing very well. As it turns out, many people are choosing less expensive restaurants to stretch their dollars and still entertain the family.

Conduct informational interviews with people in careers that you think you may enjoy. Informational interviews are very good tools for several reasons. They help you to build your network and also to get helpful career advice.

Finally, listen to your friends and family. They probably know you well enough to identify your strengths and weaknesses and some will provide the information solicited or unsolicited. For instance, my friends often tell me that I am inquisitive, ask a lot of questions and have a good voice. Therefore, I would have been a good news reporter. Well, I could certainly see myself doing that type of work had I chosen to pursue it.

If you are in the mood for some summer reading, I would suggest three good books, Do What You Are by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger, Is Your Genius at Work? by Dick Richards and a book with a Christian focus, Cure for the Common Life by Max Lucado.

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